Will “Best Of Times” For Iran Soon Be “The Worst?”

by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET) June 6, 2012

The Charles Dickens' novel "A Tale of Two Cities" begins with the iconic line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  It remains to be seen whether what has been the best of times for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Islamic fundamentalist agenda he has been promoting during his time in office will become the worst of times before year's end.

When Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, he did so with the goal of exporting Islamic fundamentalism and ushering in the return of the 12th Imam.  The 12th Imam supposedly disappeared centuries ago but is to return sometime in the future to force the world's conversion to Islam.  Ahmadinejad believes he has been "chosen" to pave the way for the 12th Imam's return, which he has claimed will occur while he is still in office.  He believes his pursuit of this goal has enjoyed "the best of times" thus far.  He believes the hand of the Prophet Muhammad is working to stave off those who would deny Ahmadinejad his role.  The months ahead will prove absolutely critical either in reinforcing Ahmadinejad's belief he has been divinely chosen or in causing him to question whether he really has.

Let us examine why Ahmadinejad perceives he has enjoyed the best of times so far.

  • He has seen his support for militants in Iraq pay off with a US withdrawal.  Although a democratic government has been installed, it is being led by an Iranian puppet, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Al-Maliki appears to be moving Baghdad back towards dictatorship while helping Tehran murder members of an Iranian opposition group residing in Iraq known as the MEK.  
  • He has seen the weapons and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) smuggled into Iraq and Afghanistan by Iran claim thousands of US casualties. 
  • He has seen the lure of covert cash payments made to Afghani officials woo some into the Iranian camp. 
  • He has seen his alliance with Syria's Bashar Assad grow stronger.  That relationship undoubtedly played a role in Assad's brief, covert effort to build a nuclear facility-until Israel ended it. 
  • He has seen his brutal suppression of domestic opposition, which arose to challenge his authority after a fraudulent presidential election, meet with success. 
  • He has seen, by virtue of his relationship with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the successful establishment of a base there occupied by his terrorist proxy group Hezbollah.  This group has linked up with Mexican drug cartels to covertly access America's borders. 
  • He has seen tremendous success in moving Tehran's nuclear arms program forward.  It has been achieved by mimicking North Korea's successful effort by conducting an erratic foreign policy alternating between acts of aggression and peaceful overtures in order to outlast opposition to Iran's nuclear program.    

 

But a number of developments have the potential of transitioning  Ahmadinejad's best of times into the worst.  The next four months will be most telling in this regard.

In Venezuela, where Chavez has run democracy into the ground and in four months seeks a third term as president, a cozy relationship with Ahmadinejad has flourished.  It has led to establishment of a Hezbollah presence which is being developed-without any objection from the Obama Administration-into a missile base.  Obviously part of Ahmadinejad's game plan is to prepare that base as a possible launching point for the nuclear weapons he hopes to soon have.  Such a base puts the US within easy striking range of Iran's existing missile technology.  But, in achieving this goal, Ahmadinejad failed to see fate possibly dealing his relationship with Chavez an ill-timed blow.  A recent report on the Venezuelan leader's cancer fight indicates he may not even survive to see the results of the October 7th presidential election.  If so, Ahmadinejad's future relationship will turn on whether Chavez's brother continues the drive to destroy democracy in Venezuela by seizing power or whether a Hugo-less led Venezuela reverts back to democracy.  If the latter, Ahmadinejad could find a new president there concerned about Hezbollah 's continued presence posing a threat not only to the US but to Venezuela as well. 

Among Ahmadinejad's biggest fears is the impact the aforementioned Iranian opposition group-the MEK-currently residing in Iraq could have in Iran.  A decade and a half ago, after successfully pressing the US to declare MEK a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), Iran has done all it can to ensure the group remains on the list.  Despite MEK subsequently meeting the test for FTO removal, Iran plants information suggesting otherwise.  Ahmadinejad has good reason to fear MEK.  The group is responsible for first revealing Iran's covert nuclear weapons program.  Also, a de-listed MEK would assist in any future domestic opposition to clerical rule. 

Any decision to de-list MEK has to be made by the US State Department-which has been reluctant even though required by a court order almost two years ago to do so.  Unhappy with State Department's foot-dragging, that same court this month ordered State either to issue a decision within four months or MEK will be de-listed.

In Syria, Ahmadinejad sees the possibility of losing another strong ally.  It is of such concern to him that he has deployed members of his special forces-the Quds Force-to help Assad maintain control.  It is clear from the brutal tactics Ahmadinejad employed in putting down his own domestic unrest after his fraudulent re-election, he is counseling Assad to employ them against his people as well.  Iranians have been involved in the brutal killing and torture of Syrian men, women and children.  As the West shows less and less enthusiasm for stepping in, it gives Assad and Ahmadinejad more and more confidence they will have the time to put the rebellion down.  Assad knows the international community failed to act decades earlier when his father killed over 25,000 Syrians in an uprising during his rule; the son is not yet half way to that total and expects the same inaction by the international community.  The unknown as to whether Assad sinks or swims is the opposition's ability to unify itself and start taking and holding ground, thus encouraging international action.  The next several months will tell if this is possible.

As for Iran's nuclear program, the West has become more unified recently in its effort to stop it.  While sanctions against Iran are having an impact, Tehran continues its delaying tactics to buy more time to develop a nuclear arsenal.  Continuing its erratic foreign policy, Tehran agreed to hold nuclear talks in April in Turkey.  The only result of that meeting was a "good will" gesture by Iran in issuing a religious edict banning the production of nuclear weapons-this coming from a culture that sanctions lying to an enemy to further its own cause.

A second meeting was held in May in Iraq, again with no positive results.  A third meeting is now scheduled for later this month in Russia.  Ironically, as these meetings bring the West no closer to resolving the issue, it brings Iran closer to obtaining nuclear weapons.  We should expect no progress from the third meeting as well. 

What the West continues to ignore in these talks is that any agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program is tied to Ahmadinejad's belief such a weapon-and its use-is necessary to pave the way for the return of the 12th Imam, whose return can only be triggered by world chaos.  An agreement to shut down Iran's enrichment program is contrary to Ahmadinejad's religious conviction, meaning the program will never voluntarily be halted.

Most concerned about Iran's continuing drive to develop nuclear weapons is the country that will be its primary target-Israel.  It is doing its own assessment as to how much longer it can remain inactive while the nuclear talks continue to drag on without an accord being reached.  Israel cannot afford to "go it alone" in taking military action but neither can it afford to allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons.  The progress of the talks over the next four months will be critical to Israel's final assessment to go it alone.

There is a lot at stake in the months ahead for Iran. 

The next four months will prove critical in determining whether Ahmadinejad continues to perceive his divine destiny is to prepare for the 12th Imam's return.  They will prove critical in determining whether or not Iran's nuclear program is stopped.  Just as it is unlikely we will ever witness the return of the 12th Imam, it is unlikely we will ever see Tehran voluntarily (and verifiably) agree to halt its nuclear program.  It is doubtful too President Obama, in an election year, will risk his re-election chances by taking military action alongside Israel. 

Sadly, Israel will most likely be left on its own in taking military action.  Israeli inaction will let "the best of times" continue to roll for Ahmadinejad as he perceives divine intervention has tied his enemies' hands.  Only military action will ensure Ahmadinejad's reign ends on a "worst of times" note, causing him to realize his destiny is not so divine after all.

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.


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